Paying Michigan workers $12 an hour by 2022 and phasing out the reduced minimum wage for tipped workers could be put to a popular vote this fall.
On Monday, the Michigan One Fair Wage group submitted 373,507 signatures in support of annually increasing the state's current $9.25 an hour wage, starting with a hike to $10 next year and concluding with $12 in 2022. Growth after that would be tied to the yearly inflation rate. Tipped employees would also be paid full minimum wage on top of their tips by 2024.
"For too long, working people have struggled to make ends meet while greedy CEOs rake in big bucks at their expense," said the campaign's chair, Alicia Renee Farris. "It's time for a raise."
Advocates for the effort, such as restaurant servers, church leaders and social justice activists, arrived in Lansing to deliver the petition to the Secretary of State's office, where it awaits a Board of State Canvassers certification of at least 252,523 signatures to proceed. Should it falter in the Republican-controlled Legislature, the initiative would be placed on the ballot during the November ballot for voters to accept or reject.
The proposal could have considerable ripples within the restaurant industry. Michigan employees who normally collect voluntary gratuities are subject to a reduced minimum wage of $3.52 an hour — as long as that combines with their tips to add up to the $9.25 minimum. Supporters say that is not enough for those who live in poverty despite working full time.
Tracy Pease, a server at Leo's Coney Island in Royal Oak said even $12 an hour would not solve all her financial problems. But as someone who said her ability to pay bills on time is dependent on pleasing strangers, abolishing the tipped minimum wage would reduce sexual harassment and restore "some semblance of power."
"It is absolutely ludicrous the way that waitresses are treated," Pease said. "You may need that extra $3 tip, so the customers have that power."
Pro-business groups in opposition contend that overhauling the two-tiered wage system would cripple food industries.
"Simply put, this proposal is irresponsible and dangerous, and it will fail," said Justin Winslow, president of the Michigan Restaurant Association. "It will mean fewer jobs, fewer opportunities and lower incomes for those impacted."
Wendy Block, a Michigan Chamber of Commerce lobbyist, said the increase would make the state uncompetitive for jobs.
Michigan would join seven other states if either its lawmakers or its citizens vote to eliminate the tipped minimum wage. A National Conference of State Legislatures review shows 14 states have a higher minimum wage than Michigan, with some, including California and New York, slated to enforce a $15 per hour wage in the coming years. Fast-food workers have nationally pushed for the $15 goal — one all three Democratic gubernational candidates in Michigan have also embraced — but the ballot committee is not seeking it.
The national group behind the effort, the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, recently spearheaded a similar campaign in Michigan that culminated with the GOP-controlled Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder boosting the minimum wage by a smaller amount in 2014. After this year, only inflationary adjustments will be made.
The minimum wage debate has been an age-old divide among economists, who are still scrutinizing the effects of past minimum wage increases.
"Most studies point to negative, but fairly modest, effects on employment," said Charles Brown, a labor economics professor at the University of Michigan. "We know much less about the long-run effects, and they are probably larger."